Week of November 2, 2005

Nov 2, 2005 at 4:00 am
Hey Joe: What percentage of major league ballplayers do you think are gay? Back in the day, were you ever hesitant to bend over and pick up the soap in the team shower?

Elroy "Toots" Dombrowski, Dupo, Illinois

Although we live in a society saturated with immoralities, I still believe in the word decency. Maybe the way I feel is: It isn't what you do but how you do it. Homosexuality, as defined in the American Heritage College Dictionary, is having a sexual orientation to persons of the same sex. Or a gay man or lesbian. But because I respect people as people, I try not to dig into their personal lives and on many occasions found myself defending people referred to as gays or lesbians against those expressing hate towards them.

Before the civil rights movement, blacks were blacks and whites were whites. Such people of color were thrown into the same bag. The same applied to whites regarding "liberty and justice for all," which meant whites -- no matter what their sexual preference -- had access to everything available in America, while blacks were denied most. By me being black, I've felt the sting of hatred, as well as countless other degradations. Because of this, my heart has always gone out to those I feel are mistreated.

Then comes the civil rights movement, which was designed to seek better treatment for blacks. Subsequently, the majority gay and lesbian community sought to protest against being secretly isolated from society and moved to openly legalize their activities, as same-sex marriage partners. In this respect I say: To each his or her own -- but stand and fight independently. My dissatisfaction was that they used the civil rights movement to enhance the possibility of this becoming a reality by promoting the idea that blacks fought for their civil rights.

Blacks did not fight for sexual rights. They fought for the right of "liberty and justice for all." During the time I played ball, players were paired together in hotels and slept in the same bed. Had they entertained such fantasies, there was no need for showers or soap, etc. As for the percentage of gay men in the majors, the same as I have answered your question, I'm sure they would do likewise if asked.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn?t know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman?s Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry?s most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they?d arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.